Catholic Sentinel photoS by Ed Langlois
Dr. John Vargo greets Sister Emiliana Moshi at jubilee Mass at St. Rose in Portland.
Catholic Sentinel photoS by Ed Langlois
Dr. John Vargo greets Sister Emiliana Moshi at jubilee Mass at St. Rose in Portland.

BEAVERTON — For two decades, a group of Tanzanian Sisters have served amid interminable gray skies and a 10,000-mile separation from home.

They are missionaries to Oregon.

Natives of Tanzania in East Africa, the Holy Spirit Sisters are pioneers in the decades-long wave of Catholic missionaries who come from developing countries to the United States. For much of the 20th century, the U.S. Catholic Church was a leading exporter of missionaries. But a precipitous drop in U.S. vocations and an explosion of African and Asian vocations resulted in a reversal.

Last month, the half dozen Holy Spirit Sisters in Oregon were feted at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Northeast Portland on the occasion of their community's 50th anniversary. The Sisters live in house across the street from the church and serve at the infirmary of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, St. Anthony Village assisted living, the Martha and Mary Home and at the archbishop's residence.

The jubilee Mass began with the Sisters dancing up the aisle to traditional music, with friends calling out joyfully. A celebratory spirit is usual in many African Catholic liturgies and a hallmark of the women's ministry in Oregon.

“Our spirituality is the Pentecost,” Sister Catherine Msaky told the Sentinel in 1999. “We live by the Risen Lord and the Holy Spirit. Then we evangelize mostly through our work, our presence. The idea is to allow Jesus to again incarnate through us.”

The Sisters were founded in Tanzania in 1964 by a German missionary, Father Bernhard Bendel. The first Sisters came from Germany but soon local women were inspired to join. The community also has houses Germany, the Philippines and India.

This also marks 20 years since the Sisters came to serve in Portland. They specialize in caring for frail elders.

The Sisters have inspired many local Catholics.

"They set an example for the school children and all the rest of us," says St. Rose parishioner Irene Hammock. "Their piety and devotion is beyond compare." Hammock and Sister Emiliana Moshi worked together on a jubilee banner that stood in the church.

"Your lives are signs of Jesus Christ in our world today. Thank you for your service to the needy ones. Thank you for your joy and laughter," Andrew and Minnie Smidt of Holy Family Parish said in a letter to the Sisters.

"They have the joy of Jesus in their hearts," says Dr. John Vargo, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Salem. "They have the real love of Jesus."

When they first came to Oregon, the Sisters lived at the convent of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in Beaverton. The women are fondly remembered.

"They have a very lively spirituality and a very warm and gracious way of ministering," says Sister Charlene Herinckx, superior general of the Sisters of St. Mary, who with others from Beaverton attended the jubilee celebration.

"God seeks not to conquer our wills, but to win over our hearts," Father Matt Libra told the congregation during the anniversary Mass. The Sisters continue that divine method, the priest said. Father Libra then turned to the six women, who wore colorful jubilee garb: "You let us know by your very being what it is like to anticipate Christ."